Iranian water protests a warning to the regime
When it comes to Iran, the Western powers have built the equivalent of the Great Wall of China between the nuclear file and the domestic situation. Indeed, as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action 2.0 negotiations resume in Vienna, Western foreign affairs officials, experts and analysts alike do not see the protests in Isfahan. And, of course, they do not condemn the violent repression taking place.
The region of Isfahan has been facing severe water scarcity. These protests by thousands of farmers and concerned citizens were prompted by the complete disappearance of a major river. Tolerated by the regime at the beginning, the protests have recently faced a violent crackdown. The main reason for this situation is that the water flow has been rerouted to serve industrial projects supervised by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and to supply water to religious sites.
They are not the first protests of this kind in Iran, as demonstrations in the province of Khuzestan, which is majority Arab, have also been severely repressed. There are two constants: The first is repression by the regime’s forces and the second is the international community’s silence. It now seems like there is a need to appease the regime in Tehran before starting any round of negotiations. This appeasement translates into looking the other way when the regime represses thousands of protesters. The fear of derailing the nuclear negotiations marks the first loss of the international community in these negotiations. It simply signals weakness and a complete submission to the Iranian regime’s agenda.
And this is where the biggest mistake is made, simply because the regime’s nefarious actions are the main reason there will always be suspicions about the militarization of its nuclear program. Would anyone be worried if the Iranian regime had a constructive and positive domestic and foreign policy? And so, when the West stays silent on all the IRGC and Iranian regime activities in its own country and throughout the region, it is simply seen in Tehran as a green light to continue its rogue and bullying actions.
It surely also does not go unnoticed by the Tehran regime that small protests in the Arab world lead to Western comments and declarations, but when it comes to Iran and violent repression, everyone stays silent. In other words, if you are a top IRGC guy, you would think “why be friends with the West if this is the result?” Surely it is better to stay a tolerated enemy that can bite off influence and territory from the West’s allies and partners. However, this formula is about to change, not because of Western powers but because of a regional realignment.
The Iran nuclear deal is not and was never a guarantee of the regime’s non-nuclearization of its military activities, and there are always loopholes and risks that will put the region and the world at risk of an Iranian fait accompli. Deal or no deal, if the regime is an aggressive and expansionist one, it makes no difference. As former French President Jacques Chirac once famously said after winning an election: “My promises only bind those who believe them.” And when it comes to the Iranian regime, its actions speak much louder than the words in its promises. Indeed, there is a much higher probability that the Iranian regime will look for a way to build nuclear weapons when one looks at its actions in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
The negotiations are also happening at a time when the US is clearly disengaging from the Middle East region and cares less about the outcomes. The nuclear deal offers it an effective way to close this chapter and move on. This is why the real necessity for stability in the region goes beyond a nuclear deal — it goes to facing down the real threats and establishing a constructive infrastructure.
They are a message that the only solution is to focus on domestic development instead of foreign aggression.
Khaled Abou Zahr
There is today, and have been in the past, numerous Arab efforts to reach out to Iran and turn the page. These have always failed, simply because the current regime says it will do one thing and always does another. Its actions have always been about undermining its neighbors and strengthening its hold over the region. I think that this Arab outreach should continue, but today there is a risk surpassing even the great power competition between the US and China: It is the risk of a regional power competition. This means that regional players might start organizing and protecting their interests, building the deterrents needed to stop any negative action by any neighbor. This could lead to a rapid escalation.
As the negotiations move forward, the Iranian regime should also think about the future and understand that it will never control the region. Instead, it has a historic opportunity to contribute, along with all its neighbors, to a framework for development, stability and growth. This could even contribute to the solving of its water problems.
The water protests are something the Iranian regime should take as a warning. They are a message from its people that change is needed and that the only solution is to focus on domestic development instead of foreign aggression. The countries of the West should also take note and ask if they are willing to let the dollars flow to the IRGC while it continues to suppress water flows? It should be clear that, if Iran — despite a nuclear deal and positive Arab engagement — continues its nefarious activities, the world should expect it to become a military nuclear power and should get ready for this scenario.
- Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.